Cloud security's PR problem shouldn't be shrugged off

A recent Harris Poll shows that cloud computing's lack of security -- or at least its perception -- is making many Americans uneasy about the whole idea

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"One of the main issues people have with cloud computing is security. Four in five online Americans (81 percent) agree that they are concerned about securing the service. Only one-quarter (25 percent) say they would trust this service for files with personal information, while three in five (62 percent) would not. Over half (58 perent) disagree with the concept that files stored online are safer than files stored locally on a hard drive and 57 percent of online Americans would not trust that their files are safe online."

That's the sobering conclusion from a recent Harris poll conducted online between March 1 and 8 among 2,320 adults.

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Cloud security has a significant PR problem. I'm sure there will be comments below about how cloud computing, if initiated in the context of a sound security strategy, is secure -- perhaps moreso than on-premise systems. While I agree to some extent, it's clear that the typical user does not share that confidence, which raises a red flag for businesses seeking to leverage the cloud.

If you think about it, users' fears are logical, even though most of us in the know understand them to be unfounded. For a typical user, it's hard to believe information stored remotely can be as safe as or safer than systems they can see and touch.

Of course, you can point out the number of times information walks out the door on USB thumb drives, stolen laptops, and other ways that people are losing information these days. However, there continues to be a mistrust of resources that are not under your direct control, and that mindset is bad for the cloud.

Not helping matters is the recent debacle where Blippy.com, a site that allows people to share their purchase info with others by linking to credit cards accounts, found that some credit card information was indexed by Google and publically exposed. To be sure, that was a mistake on someone's part, not an inherent flaw in cloud technology, but these kinds of breaches further the fears that placing personal or core business information in the cloud may be a bad idea.

There is no easy answer to this problem, though a look to history can help. When the Web first hit businesses, it was feared and misunderstood until the business value became clear to all. This took years, and even today we use the traditional Web by taking the good (for example, the ability to find instantly the one piece of information that caps your presentation to the board) with the bad (the creepy guy down the hall who was caught surfing porn). The benefits outweigh the problems, and cloud computing will eventually find a similar path to acceptance.

This article, "Cloud security's PR problem shouldn't be shrugged off," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and follow the latest developments in cloud computing and security at InfoWorld.com.